“Their eyes met in Rome. On a street in Rome — the Via Piemonte. He was coming down it, coming along toward her, when she first saw him. She didn’t know it but he was also coming into her life, into her destiny — bringing what was meant to be.
Every life is a mystery. And every story of every life is a mystery. But it is not what happens that is the mystery. It is whether it has to happen no matter what, whether it is ordered and ordained, fixed and fated, or whether it can be missed, avoided, circumvented, passed by; that is the mystery.
If she had not come along the Via Piemonte that day, would it still have happened? Therein lies the real mystery. And no one ever knows, and no one ever will.”
From For the Rest of Her Life, by Cornell Woolrich, filmed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder as MARTHA.
This sequence is treated in an extraordinary manner by Fassbinder in his TV adaptation of one of Woolrich’s last stories (in which the heroine’s ultimate fate somewhat reflects Woolrich’s own.
As seen in the picture at top, we begin looking past Martha as she spots the man (PEEPING TOM’s Karlheinz Boehm). Following her as she crosses the square, we — well, at this point it becomes complicated.
The actors pause opposite each other and seem to circle each other, but the camera also circles them…
Having started on Martha, we now follow the mysterious stranger as he walks away…
In the DVD extras on Volume 1 of the Rainer Werner Fassbinder collection, Boehm calls this one of the greatest shots of all time, and I think I have to agree. He also talks about how hard it was to perform the shot unself-consciously — I think the actors have to step over the tracks, and they also have to remain impassive as the camera tracks right across their eyelines. Seeing this movie explains all those circling tracks in Scorsese’s COLOR OF MONEY, also shot by Michael Ballhaus.
I don’t think the actors do quite manage to avoid self-consciousness, but that doesn’t bother me at all. The shot is so strange and disorientating that one assumes it’s meant to convey something of the mystery Woolrich writes about — it’s like the world just executed a spin around the characters, and they each feel the importance of this inexplicable moment.